How the African American culture and racism affect Fences



The play Fences by August Wilson is set in the 1950s and focuses on the life of Troy who is a 53-year-old struggling to make ends meet for the sake of his family. In his younger days, Troy was a professional baseball player in the Negro league baseball. Following an accidental murder during a robbery, Troy is sent to prison and continues practicing baseball but still cannot join Major League Baseball after prison due to racial discrimination. The inability to join Major League Baseball means that Troy cannot make good money to provide for his family or save for the future. The inequalities in this society have led to Troy’s bitter attitude within the play (Wolfe 65). The play by August Wilson not only shows the issues that African Americans have to face within the United States but also that racism is a strong barrier to the access to opportunities for the African Americans. The events in the play are reminiscent of what was taking place in society during this time.

The African American culture and racism

From the play, the reader learns that Troy was born in 1904 and his life whether in work or in his social interaction has always been filled with racial discrimination and the exploitation of the blacks. The play is set in the 1950s at a time when the country was experiencing the civil rights movements and racial segregation under the Jim Crow laws. Troy moved from the rural south and came to Pittsburg which was part of the urban north in search of better opportunities and better living conditions. The aspects of the African American culture are immediately evident in the life and struggles of Troy as he embodies the typical African American individual of 1950. At this time, African Americans were fighting inequality in society such that it had become part of their culture. The black community was fighting inequality through the civil rights movement while also opposing laws that were detrimental to their wellbeing and progression in society. Such aspects of this community in the wider national context influence Wilson’s Fences as Troy’s movement to the north was in opposition to the Jim Crow laws in the south. Movement from the slave hub in the south to the north had become part of the African American culture as laws were repressive affected their wellbeing.

Another cultural aspect of the African American community that affects the events in the novel is the perception that blacks are associated with violent criminal behavior, and hence the high likelihood of serving time in prison. Much of the argument on the reason that the African American community members engage in criminal activities lie in the levels of poverty in this community, where members live below the poverty line. Due to the unequal access to resources and education, African Americans are incapable of engaging in economic activities with high incomes and have to contend with poverty. Such has led to the association of poverty with the African American culture, where poverty breeds crime as members tries to survive in this unequal society. Troy serves a prison sentence for an accidental murder during a robbery, and this relates to the culture of poverty and crime associated with the African American community. By using these aspects of society, August Wilson was applying the cultural attributes of this community in his play.

One of the most dominant aspects evident in the novel is the issue of racism and discrimination. Much of the events in the play are the outcomes of racial discrimination that Troy was fighting against as he tried to make ends meet for the sake of his family. The racial inequalities in this society mean that the members of the black community have to contend with low paying jobs whose pay is not enough for their sustenance. Within the play, Troy works for the sanitation company as a lifter and the racial discriminations in his workplace lead to his engagement with his employer when he enquires as to why no black man is allowed to drive a garbage truck (Wilson 2). Racial discrimination implies that he has to contend with the low paying menial jobs. The 1950s and 1960s were characterized by the Civil Rights Movement that made substantial progress in pushing for the advancement of the needs of the black man. The fact that Troy becomes the firsts black truck driver may be reminiscent of these changes taking place in society as advances are made towards fighting racism in the American society.

Another aspect of racism evident in the play is the fact that Troy cannot join Major League Baseball on account that he is from the African American community. According to the play by Wilson, Troy was an exceptional player in the Negro League Baseball but this league did not have as many opportunities as the Major League Baseball. The inability of the blacks to participate in competitive baseball with the whites was due to racial segregation and this led to the creation of their own teams and league (Lancot 4). Such issues came from the fact that the blacks were considered as inferior in society and that they could not interact with the whites. With the racial divide being evident in the play, Troy cannot earn enough money to take care of his family or save for the future despite being an excellent player in the Negro league. His legendary career as a baseball player is stunted by the racism in this society.


The play Fences by August Wilson is written in the context of the issues that were taking place in society during the 1950s and 1960s. The black community was undergoing racial discrimination and had to contend with being second class citizens. The setting and events within the play are derived from the aspects of the African American culture as well as the racial disparities that shaped this society. The playwright’s intent was to show how this culture and especially racism are detrimental to the achievement of the individual’s potential.

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  1. Lanctot, Neil. Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution (illustrated ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Print.
  2. Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plum, 1986. Print.
  3. Wolfe, Peter. August Wilson. New York: Twayne, 1999. Print
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